In this week's Alabama Law Weekly Update, we report on a case from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama discussing the accommodations requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act and a case from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama examining a claim brought under the Equal Pay Act. 

Sarah S. Horton v. Mobile County Board of School Commissioners, 2015 WL 667699 (S.D. Ala. October 30).

In 1975, Sarah Horton (“Horton”) was hired by the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners (the “Board”). Horton's duties included driving the school bus. In October of 2008, Horton suffered an on-the-job injury to her knee and back. As a result, Horton had several job restrictions. Horton was not permitted to use stairs or drive the bus. In September of 2009, Horton's doctor removed the driving restriction and recommended that an extra step be installed on the bus that Horton drove. In February of 2010, the Board approved the installation of an additional step to allow Horton to enter and exit the bus. The Board also agreed to accommodate Horton by allowing her to drive a bus with the assistance of an aide.

On August 27, 2014, Horton filed a lawsuit against the Board, alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). In her complaint, Horton claims that she was discriminated against on the basis of her disability because the Board refused to provide reasonable accommodations to her. 

Pursuant to the ADA, an employer may not discriminate against “a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to ... discharge of employees.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Discrimination has been defined to include “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical ... limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an ... employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business....” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). “The term reasonable accommodation means, [in relevant part]: Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position[.]” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1)(ii). 

The Court determined that the Board submitted sufficient evidence to show that Horton was provided a reasonable accommodation. The Board's evidence established that it engaged in discussions with Horton in February of 2010 and reached an agreement allowing Horton to return to work and to use an additional step on the bus. The Board also made an accommodation in allowing Horton to continue driving the bus with the assistance of an aide. Because Horton was unable to offer any evidence in response to the Board's evidence that it provided reasonable accommodations, the Court concluded that Horton's claims under the ADA were due to be dismissed. 

Stacey LaShay Shiver v. Career Consultants, Inc. d/b/a Fortis College Dothan, 2015 WL 6739142 (M.D. Ala. November 2).

Stacey Shiver (“Shiver”) is an African-American woman who was employed by Fortis College (“Fortis”) at its Dothan campus. Shiver was employed as an admissions representative. Shiver was hired by Fortis in July of 2009. Shiver was hired at an annual salary of $26,000. Prior to her employment, Shiver had completed high school, attended Troy State University, and served in the military. 

In December of 2009, Fortis hired Benjamin Coale (“Coale”), a white man, as an admissions representative. Coale had a biology degree and prior sales experience. Coale was hired at a starting salary of $32,000. Coale and Shiver had the same job duties. In July of 2010, Shiver's pay was increased to $27,300 and Coale's was raised to $33,600. On June 14, 2013, Coale resigned. Fortis then hired Ricardo Rojas (“Rojas”), a Hispanic man, as an admissions representative. Rojas starting salary was $40,000. Rojas had a Bachelor's Degree in Human Services/Management. Rojas had 4 and 1/2 years of experience working as an enrollment advisor for the University of Phoenix. 

Shiver filed a lawsuit against Fortis alleging, among other things, violations of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) using Rojas and Coale as comparators. To establish a case of discrimination under the EPA, a plaintiff must show that her employer paid employees of the opposite sex differently for work which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which is performed under similar working conditions. A defendant employer may avoid liability by showing that the disparate salaries are caused by a factor other than sex. For example, a defendant employer may offer evidence that the pay differences are based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or otherwise show that its decisions were based on any factor other than sex. 

Fortis argued that Shiver's claims were due to be dismissed because it set forth sufficient evidence that the disparate salaries were caused by a factor other than sex. Fortis claimed that Coale was paid a higher salary because of prior sales experience and his education background. The Court determined that Fortis was unable to establish a defense to Shiver's claims as to Coale because there was insufficient evidence to show how or why the decision to pay Coale a higher salary than Shiver was made. In contrast, the Court determined that there was sufficient evidence to show that decision makers considered Rojas' degree and experience in setting his salary. As a result, Shiver's EPA claim with Rojas as a comparator was dismissed and her claim with Coale as a comparator survived.